Nasa engineers are swarming over the space agency’s Space Launch System (SLS) rocket, checking systems in hopes of being ready for a launch window that opens 12 November for the long awaited Artemis I mission test flight.
After weeks on launch complex 39B at Kennedy Space Center in Florida, Nasa rolled the SLS rocket and Orion spacecraft back into the Vehicle Assembly Building, a rocket hangar, on 26 September to protect the launch system from Hurricane Ian.
By 30 September, Nasa teams had found no damage to the SLS or Orion due to the storm, and now are going through all the systems checks necessary to prepare the rocket to roll back out to the launch pad for another launch attempt — the third launch attempt following scrubbed launches on 29 August and 3 September.
The preparatory work includes checking thermal protection materials on the rocket and spacecraft, recharging batteries on the rocket and spacecraft, including on small, experimental satellites to be released during the subsequent mission, and replenishing biological experiment samples, according to Nasa.
When it launches, Artemis I will be the first orbital test flight of the SLS rocket, and will see the Orion spacecraft propelled on a path to, around, and back from the Moon, a more than a month-long uncrewed shakedown flight of both rocket and spacecraft ahead of the first crewed mission in 2024. That mission, Artemis II, will see a crew of four astronauts fly a similar lunar flyby mission.
If all goes well, Artemis III, scheduled for 2025, will see two astronauts land on the Moon for the first time since the 1970s.
While Hurricane Ian made landfall in Florida on 28 September as a Category 4 storm with 155 mile-per-hour winds, it had weakened to a tropical storm by the time it reached Kennedy Space Center, and little damage was done to the area, according to Nasa. Nasa’s Crew-5 mission to the International Space Station was able to launch from the center on Wednesday without any problems.
International Space station flies over Hurricane Ian
But the storm was just the latest in a long line of delays in getting Artemis I spaceborne, including repeated fueling tests and canceled launches.
The 29 August launch attempt was scrubbed due to an engine cooling problem, while the 3 September launch was scrubbed due to a fuel leak.
Nasa officials have been patient however, with Administrator Bill Nelson saying the rocket will be ready “when are ready.”
Nasa has yet to set an exact dat for the next launch attempt, but if the November launch window opening on 12 November through is a bust, the space agency has looked at launch windows well into 2023.